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Digital customer centers and self-service portals as central customer touchpoints of a digital energy industry

Even without personal contact, energy companies can provide good advanced customer service thanks to digital customer centers and self-service portals. Especially in times of a pandemic, such possibilities help to maintain personal contact with customers and at the same time to design a customer-friendly service. In addition, there are a number of other benefits for customers. That's why investments in digital solutions for customers will continue to pay off in the future, as this article shows.
While letters, e-mails, call centers, telephones and faxes are established and widely used customer service channels, digital customer centers and self-service portals have only been on the rise since the beginning of a more comprehensive digitization of the energy industry. In this context, different digital solutions are available to make customer service modern. This article presents some of the digital tools and their advantages for customer service and support.
Solutions for designing digital customer centers and self-service portals
The basic infrastructure of digital customer centers includes portals, websites, and apps. They offer numerous customer touchpoints to interact with customers. A distinction can be made between personal direct contact options and the provision of information to customers. In the latter, customers receive the information and guidance they need to take action themselves.
Chatbots and live chats.
While chatbots are automated and voice-controlled assistance systems based on artificial intelligence, in live chats real people from customer service communicate directly with customers. With both chatbots and live chats, customers get real-time information. They don't have to go through long phone queues, but can post their queries directly to a web window to get an answer.
It is true that contact forms embedded in web portals and apps also offer a comparable service. However, the response to the queries is not immediate, but usually delayed via email. Thus, voice-controlled chatbots and live chats can score points with customers by providing real-time information.
In addition, chatbots can provide information on rather generic queries for which they have been trained as AI. Whereas with live chats, customer service can be more responsive to individual queries from customers and the tool allows employees to handle multiple queries at once or route queries to appropriate departments.
Apps and portals for personal customer access.
Portals with personal customer accounts offer the advantage of managing customer data in one place. Customers can view all information about their contracts, statements and other updates here at any time. In addition, they can make address changes or changes to their contractual relationships themselves at any time. This relieves the burden on customer service. Customer service can focus more on customers without digital access or on specific inquiries.
In addition to relieving the burden on customer relationship management (CRM), customer portals offer further advantages. Customers can be informed about new products and services in a targeted manner. Marketing campaigns and sales activities can also be embedded. If portals are thus enriched with additional content, customers remain up to date and feel picked up and informed by their energy supplier.
Digital customer magazines, podcasts, videos, newsletters & social media.
Digital customer magazines offer another interface to the customer here. Here, current trends and consumer-relevant topics can be prepared in a customer-centric way. Likewise, current developments can be reported. What is otherwise covered in the classic sense and in analogue form by print customer magazines is shifted to the digital sphere. At the same time, digital customer magazines can be linked to social media activities. These also offer a further medium for communicating interactively with customers.
However, current energy topics can be presented not only through corporate blogs, newsletters and social media. Other digital media can also be incorporated. These include podcasts and videos, which are increasingly being used to pick up and inform customers. All these digital communication options not only help marketing and sales, but also optimize customer support. They reduce communication barriers and inhibitions among customers and encourage them to get in touch with their energy provider.
In this way, they signal to customers that they can be reached far away from analog customer centers. Even though there will still be analog customer centers at central locations in the future. The advantage of digital customer centers is that they ensure location-independent accessibility at any location with an Internet connection and are associated with far lower running costs.
What matters when setting up digital customer services.
As many benefits as digital customer centers and self-service portals may have. Their use stands or falls on a customer-friendly design. Without a crystal clear strategy and concept, as well as its user-friendly implementation, the benefits can easily fizzle out.
To achieve a high level of customer satisfaction with digital customer centers and self-service portals, criteria such as ease of use, comprehensibility of information, appealing design, functioning IT architecture or interlocking processes must be guaranteed. In addition, all customer services must be regularly reviewed and customer feedback helps to assess the digital customer service.
Digital tools are also available for this purpose. In addition, energy companies can get support from external service providers and do not have to reinvent the wheel. Specialized software companies that offer solutions with proven white label platforms, apps and digital tools help with the conception, planning and development of digital services and tools. They can be easily adapted to the corporate design of the energy provider. The task of the energy company here is to find the right service providers for itself.
With the current Corona pandemic and the exceptional situation that comes with it, the expansion of digital customer centers and self-service portals seems almost inevitable. However, in the long run, digital solutions offer many more advantages to fill the growing demands from customers for customer service in energy companies. This includes remote, i.e. location-independent and 24/7, i.e. round-the-clock customer support seven days a week. Thus, advanced customer service and support is elemental to customer retention and long-term customer relationships. Digital service offerings have become an integral part of the service repertoire of energy companies. From "nice-to-have" to "must-have", they are increasingly demanded by customers.

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